All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

Listen To The Pet Place Radio Show with Marie Hulett

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Doggie Daycare

Dear Marie:
My 9 month old German Shepherd seems to suffer from separation anxiety when my husband and I go to work. I won’t get into all the destructive behaviors he’s starting; but to get to the point, I just can’t leave him alone anymore without worrying about what “surprise” I’m going to come home to. I’ve heard about doggie day cares. In fact, there are a couple close to my home. What do you think about these businesses. Are they a legitimate option for dog owners like us? Please let us know. I love my dog but I am at the end of my rope when it comes to the trail of destruction he leaves every day that I have to leave the house.

Dear Annie,
More and more dog owners are discovering the advantages of doggie day care centers. I believe these businesses will become almost as prominent as child care centers over the next few years specifically because working pet owners—like the two of you—recognize that their companion animals need attention during the day. (In-home pet sitters are another great alternative.)

Separation anxiety is a common problem for pets and your dog is not alone when he resorts to destructive behavior. Doggie day care centers keep canines happily engaged in fun activities throughout their humans’ absence, keeping thoughts and opportunities to search and destroy far away.

When selecting a doggie day care center, observe the animals that are already in the program. They should be happy and social. Look for dogs that are inappropriately dominant to other animals. This could be a predictor of future problems and perhaps an indicator that you should go elsewhere. I would recommend a facility that requires all pets be spayed or neutered. This will prevent many behavior problems. Also, any
pet that enters the facility should be properly vaccinated against all communicable diseases.

How does the facility handle feeding, watering, treats, toys? Remember, these are things that can potentially bring out possessiveness in dogs which can lead to fights. It is best if your pet eats at home and does not bring special toys with him. (Especially the ones he feels very possessive of.)

Find out what the human to dog ratio is. Though some people can handle a large number of dogs, you might use the ratio of 1 person to a maximum of 6 dogs. If there are a lot of large breed dogs on site, you should reduce this number further. Observe how the humans interact with the animals and more important, how the animals interact with the humans. If the dogs will be taken out for walks, find out what the procedure is. Make sure leashes are used and that ID tags are NEVER removed from any animal for any reason.

The center should be completely fenced. There should also be some method of double gating the main entry. By this I mean that no dog should have immediate access to the door. There should be a secondary gate or a barrier between the entry and the dogs. Ask the care providers what steps will be taken should a dog escape. Also find out what the procedures are for veterinary emergencies, fires, earthquakes, etc.

If everything seems satisfactory to you, bring your dog with you to a second visit. (A reputable facility will allow you to visit any time, even after you are completely enrolled in the program.  Some even have real-time online video feeds that you can view.) Watch how your pet interacts with all the “regulars”. If he seems to have a good time, you've found a good doggie day care. If you see anything that makes you feel uncertain, trust your instincts and look elsewhere.

Once you have settled on a care center, I am sure you will be quite surprised at the positive effects it
will have on both your dog and you!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nursing Cat...

Dear Marie,
About 4 months ago we adopted a little kitten from an animal shelter. He seemed extraordinarily small at the time and apparently had come into the shelter without a mom; but he was weaned and was eating solid food so the shelter people told us he was ready to go. He has been a joy for as long as we have had him. He bonded to us immediately, sleeps with us every night, follows us everywhere, and immediately jumps in a lap as soon as it becomes available. Most people who meet him think he acts more like a dog than a cat. He is perfectly well behaved, uses his little box and scratching post; I just can’t say enough good things about him.

We do have one little issue though that maybe you can help us with. When he sits in our lap or lies across our tummies, he kneads us with his little, razor sharp claws, drools and “nurses” on our clothing until he falls asleep. I constantly have wet spots on my shirt after he’s been on my lap, along with dozens of little claw marks on my legs and stomach from his kneading. I feel like the old cartoon bulldog who befriended the little stray kitten. I don’t have the heart to stop him – because I know there is no malice behind what he’s doing. But it sure would be nice if he would stop. Got any suggestions???
Sylvia and Jack

Dear Sylvia,
It appears that your kitten lost his mother far too early in life. Generally, it is not a good idea to separate a kitten from its mom until it is between three to four months old, and sometimes longer than that if the kitten seems like it needs a little extra nurturing time. But even if there is early separation for whatever reason, kittens usually do not suffer many adverse consequences.

In the worst-case scenarios, early separation may result in a cat who does not develop very good personal hygiene habits; but even that is rare. The behaviors you have described are the ones most commonly observed and usually cats grow out of the majority of them, given enough time.

Your kitten has completely accepted you two as his parents and he feels very secure and content while in your lap – this is the same feeling he would have experienced while snuggling with his mother. The kneading is a behavior that is very primal and one that he does not even consciously do. Newborn kittens knead the underside of their mothers’ bellies to stimulate milk flow. Just as with baby humans, the act of nursing comforts kittens and helps them drift away to sleep.

However, nursing triggers another physiological response associated with the anticipation of food – and that would be drooling. You may recall Pavlov’s dogs and that famous experiment. Even though your kitten’s kneading and suckling of your favorite t-shirts are not going to produce milk for him any time soon, deep in his psyche is the conditioning that kneading and nursing is related to food and hence, the drool is inevitable.

I have had a number of cats over the years that would spend a good five to ten minutes kneading my lap before they would relax, and if I moved even a fraction of an inch after that, they would have to start the whole kneading process over again. I can definitely relate to your desire for your kitten to get past this. The truth is that the kneading aspect of this babyish behavior may not go away. You should consider various steps that you can take that will help minimize your discomfort.

First, clip your cat’s claws regularly. If you make this a weekly routine, your kitten will not have a problem with it. His shorter claws will likely not make it through most clothing that you wear. Second, put a blanket in your lap if it looks like your kitten has chosen you to be the recipient of his “love” for the moment. He can knead a blanket for as long as his heart desires, and your legs will remain unscathed. Finally, don’t settle into a spot if you are wearing nice clothes or nylons. If it is going to be lap-time for kitty, change into comfy house clothes first.

I think it is actually very sweet that your kitten has so fully accepted you as his mommy and daddy. You have a cat who will always be very people-oriented and loving. If he outgrows his infant-like behaviors, I have a feeling you will always recount them with a smile.

Friday, April 25, 2014

America's Family Pet Expo, Orange County Fairgrounds...

We had a great day at America's Family Pet Expo at the Orange County Fairgrounds today!  We will be there tomorrow and Sunday too.  Come to booth 1143 and tell your pet adoption story for our Pet Place documentary.  See you there.  More info here:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cat keeps losing collar and tag...

My cat can’t seem to keep a collar and tag. Every time I buy a new collar, she gets it off and loses it within a day or two. She’s easily gone through a dozen collars and tags over the last six months. I have no idea where they end up too! But my main concern is that she might get lost without ID. Should I get her a tattoo and give up on the collar and tag?

Dear Stephanie,
Some cats just won’t tolerate a collar and tag. I’m glad to hear though, that you've persevered in trying to keep your cat protected with ID. I would not, however, go in the direction of tattooing. There seems to be no standard in how tattoos are used, and animal shelter staffs have a difficult time tracing them. Furthermore, tattoos can be easily overlooked, especially in a frightened or fractious pet that resists examination.

You do have another option available. This is to have a microchip identification device implanted under your
cat’s skin just above its shoulders. Microchips are available from most veterinarians and the average retail price is about $15.00, though there are clinics that offer low or no-cost specials.  Check with your local animal shelter to find out if they offer clinics. The microchip is approximately the size of a grain of rice and is injected with what looks like a hypodermic needle.

Again, this is a permanent identification that cannot be lost or removed. Animal shelters are able to detect the presence of a microchip with a special scanner. The scanner picks up a coded number in a manner similar to how a grocery store scanner reads UPC codes. This number is contained in a database that holds owner
information. Each chip is assigned its own unique number. If you move, you will not need to get a new chip; you will just need to advise your veterinarian and/or microchip company of the new information so that the database can be updated.

My personal opinion about identification for pets is that you can’t have too much. I would suggest having both ID types for your kitty. It’s better to play it ultra safe now than to deal with unfortunate “should haves” at some later date. You did not mention if your cat goes outside. However, judging by the complete disappearance of twelve collars and tags, I suspect this is the case. I've said this before and I really can’t say it enough. Cats should be indoor pets only. It is extremely dangerous to allow a cat to roam free in the neighborhood. There are dangers ranging from coyotes, to cars, to diseases, to unscrupulous people everywhere. It sounds like you truly love your pet and want to protect her. If this is so, please keep her indoors!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cat has Human Trained!

Dear Marie,
Can you please explain this – whenever I do anything that does not involve my cat, he does everything and anything within his power to get in my way. For example, when I read the paper in the morning, he immediately jumps onto the very article I am reading and proceeds to lie down and start washing himself. If I am in bed reading a book, he will jump up and get between the book and me. If I am studying or doing homework – same thing…up he plops right in the middle of my book or paper. If I do any kind of art
or sewing project, he’ll sit on whatever material I have spread out and make it impossible for me to lay out a pattern or cut. And get this – right before my alarm clock goes off in the morning, he will jump up on me, stretch out, get comfy, and fall asleep – which makes it extremely difficult for me to get up and out of bed because I hate to disturb him when he seems so content. What do you think about all of this?

Dear Jennifer,
Your stories involving your kitty are feline phenomena that almost every cat owner has experienced at one time or another – and most likely as routinely as what you have described. I can’t tell you how many times my own cats have done these exact antics – but it is a daily occurrence and that is no exaggeration.

There will be plenty of people standing in line to tell you that there is no real cat-plotting going on behind these behaviors. But after seeing this happen over and over with almost every cat I've ever had in my life, I’m going to have to give kitties a little more credit than what most scientific-minded folks will agree with.

First, I do believe that cats are capable of highly intelligent, complicated thinking, and more and more researchers are finding this to be true. Cats are very observant little creatures and they notice when you are giving attention to something other than them. In very short order, they figure out that if they get right in the middle of what you are doing, that you have no choice but to change the object of your attention to something more appropriate – ahem - and focus all your energy on them.

Cats generally don’t get negative consequences when they interrupt in this matter. Instead, they get pet – which is exactly what they want. So, they have effectively trained their humans at that point to recognize that cats – not newspapers, books, crafts, sewing projects, etc. – are the only things in the house that deserve attention.

Of course, after they have success in this area on more than one or two occasions, you can pretty much
bet that they will continue this behavior for as long as they get the positive reinforcement.

If you absolutely don’t want your cat to do this, you can give him a negative consequence - like a quick mist with a water bottle; but I think the reason we all pet our cats when they engage in this behavior rather than get irritated is because deep down we know that kitty time is quality time. And that is why you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning once your cat settles in. It wouldn't be very difficult to gently move your cat off of you and then get up. But no cat owner likes to do that, and somehow all kitties know this.

Again, it all boils down to your cat paying attention. Each day he sees you get up around the same time. You get ready for work or school, and then you leave him for hours and hours. His internal body clock knows when that dreaded time is coming and he has learned from past experience that if he “pins you down” and appears to be sleeping, you’re not going to go anywhere…at least for a little while. And I suspect that during that time, he’s getting a few minutes of petting too.

So, he’s trained you and you've trained him to enjoy a few minutes of stolen time here and there. I strongly recommend not trying to change a thing. Petting a cat releases stress and provides a number of health benefits – both psychological and physical. Enjoy
those moments whenever you can.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Puppy is Chewing EVERYTHING!

Dear Marie,
My daughter brought home a puppy about 6 months ago. He’s a little terrier mix and is 8 months old now. He’s been through obedience training but he is a terror in the house. He chews everything and shows no sign of improving. My furniture has been chewed. My pillows. My clothes. My Rugs. My shoes. Even the patio furniture in the back yard had to be replaced. Nothing is safe. I hate to say this, but if we can’t get him to stop, we’re going to have to find him another home. He should be old enough to know better
by now. He’s not a puppy anymore. Thanks for you help.

Dear Donna,
Puppies require a never ending supply of patience and a lot of work, which is why I usually recommend to people who don’t necessarily have a lot of experience with dogs that they adopt older pets. Even though a dog may obtain full size before it’s first birthday and is capable of reproducing, it is still a puppy until it is two to three years old and it will occupy most of its waking hours in puppy behaviors throughout this phase of
its life.

Teaching a dog what is and is not acceptable involves repetition and lots of it. There are no shortcuts in dog training. Some dogs do seem to pick things up quicker than others. Nevertheless, you should plan on a certain amount of misbehaving from all puppies until they obtain their adult psyche.

In the meantime, you can reduce the amount of damage to your home and belongings by supervising your young dog at all times. This means using a dog-crate when you are busy. I am not advocating leaving your dog in a confined space whenever it is convenient for you. Only use the crate if you truly cannot keep a watchful eye on your pet.

Further, young dogs need to chew on things. Make sure your dog has plenty of chew toys. Your local pet supply store should have a wide variety available with flavors, textures, and fun shapes. Just refrain from buying a chew toy that resembles anything you don’t want chewed – like shoes, feet, etc. I never could understand why pet toy manufacturers thought those were good ideas!

Additionally, your young dog needs lots of playtime. (Bored pups will almost always develop inappropriate chewing behavior.) Take him outside in your back yard and throw a ball for him. Go on long walks. Practice everything he learned in obedience classes. Wear him out as much as possible so that when he is in the house, he’ll want nothing more than to cuddle up and go to sleep.

There are also sprays that you can use to discourage your dog from chewing. They tend to have a bitter taste and work fairly well on hard surfaces. You should invest in a few bottles and spray all surfaces of your dog’s favorite chew-targets. This is not a guaranteed method for stopping all chewing – so you will still need to observe your dog’s behavior at all times.

Puppy proofing a house is also an essential task. Be certain to put important items away. Close doors to rooms where there are computer cables and other expensive electronic wires. This is both for your dog’s safety as well as for keeping your electronic gear in good working order. You should consider investing in toddler door gates that restrict where your dog can go. Until your dog becomes more trustworthy, you may want to limit his space to one or two completely puppy proofed rooms.

Finally, remember that puppies, just like human babies, need time to grow and mature into perfectly, well behaved adults. There will come a day, somewhere between his second and third birthday when you look at him and realize what a fabulous dog he is and visitors will begin complimenting him on his good manners. But that day won’t come if you give up on him. The good dog that you envision for your home is the one you have right now. It’s up to you to continue showing him how to be that dog and know that he
wants nothing more than to make you happy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Dog digs holes in back yard...

Dear Marie:
I have a two year old, male, Alaskan Malamute. He is a wonderful dog but he has one big problem..he loves to dig. We have tried everything to correct this behavior: sprays, pepper, water, noise, burying his waste in the holes he makes; but nothing seems to work. We’ve noticed he digs his holes when he is alone but we can’t be with him all the time because we work. What can we do?

Dear Lynn:
Your two year old dog is really just a big puppy. Alaskan Malamutes, like other large breed dogs, tend to remain fairly immature for several years and thus take extra time to outgrow puppy behavior problems.

Since your big guy is digging when you are not home, he is most likely bored or suffering from separation anxiety. I suspect that his digging is probably just a result of boredom since you haven’t reported any other problems occurring while he is alone.

Dogs love to dig. This is a very natural and normal behavior. Sometimes dogs, especially those that are not neutered, dig to escape and see the world...and canines of the opposite sex! During warm weather, like that which we've had a lot of lately, digging allows dogs to make a cool spot in which to lay down. Dogs also excavate yards to bury treasures, like bones, socks, and toys. But mostly, dogs who have no other distractions, (like activities with you and your family), dig because it is just plain fun!

There are two methods of dealing with digging: eliminate the behavior or redirect it. To eliminate the behavior, you must make some time when you can supervise your dog in the yard when he thinks you are gone. Watch him through a window and as soon as he begins digging, administer a consequence of some kind. You said noise and water have not helped. I suggest using a citronella collar that can administer a small "fragrant" correction via a remote control. It will definitely get his attention. In no time, he will associate digging with the unpleasant sensation and he will not know the correction is coming from you. These collars are available at most pet supply stores and are safe and humane.

Plan on beginning this training at the start of your weekend because you will need several days to be successful and break the habit. Also, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the collar if you employ this method of training.

To redirect the behavior, create a special place in a remote area of your yard that can be used for digging. Take your dog there and let him watch you bury a treat or bone. Encourage him to dig it up and praise him when he does. Do this each day, all the while burying special treasures for your dog to find. In the meantime, correct him if he digs anywhere but the special place and lead him back to the correct location. Eventually, he will only dig in the designated digging place since that is the only location where he gets positive reinforcement (finding fun and yummy treats) and receives no corrections. Unfortunately, this method will not solve digging problems associated with escape behavior. Let me know how everything works out.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cat drinks water with paw...

Dear Marie,
Do you know why some cats (including my Siamese) drink with their paws?  My cat is left-pawed and drinks her low sodium chicken broth very slowly (vet-recommended when he thought she didn't drink enough). I once timed it to 18 minutes, very relaxed and focused.  It seems very pleasurable for her, like a human sipping brandy while smoking a good cigar, only I don’t let her smoke. She’s a good drinker now that I give her bottled water.


Dear Michelle,
I’m glad your Siamese is a non-smoker!

Seriously though, providing low-sodium broth to a kitty that is not drinking enough water was an excellent recommendation by your veterinarian.  In addition to keeping your kitty hydrated, it will add a few extra calories, carbohydrates, and fat to its diet.  Depending on how old your cat is now, that could be a very good thing.  Older kitties sometimes don’t eat as much as they should, so every little bit helps.

As far as paw-drinking goes, no one really knows for sure why this behavior occurs.  The most widely accepted cause for this behavior stems from water bowls not having an adequate diameter to allow cats to drink the "normal" way.  In other words, if your little girl drinks from a small bowl, her whiskers would press against the sides and that would trigger a nerve impulse that tells her that she is putting her head into something that is too small, which could be dangerous—think photos of animals with their heads stuck in cans, boxes, etc.  Whiskers are quite sensitive and some cats truly take the sensory impulses received from them very seriously.  Try using a wider bowl for her soup and see what happens.

Some researchers believe that this behavior is linked to a very old instinct revolving around living in arid climates.  Cats who could not find fresh water, would dip their paws into mud and then lick the water off from between their toes and paw pads.

Another possibility is that as cats get older, their vision tends to deteriorate.  If a cat wasn't bothered by a small bowl in its younger days, it may shift to paw drinking later in life because it can no longer gauge the level of the water in the bowl.  Usually this happens after kitties accidentally dunk their faces one or two times.  This is not pleasant at all for them, so being the intelligent creatures they are, they figure out how to use their paws to get the water they need and keep their heads dry!

Regardless of age, a lot of Oriental breeds, or mixed breed cats that have some Siamese, Burmese, etc. in their family trees, use their paws.  Many of these cats don't have good depth perception to begin with (a lot of cross-eyes).  Consequently, they are in the same boat as senior cats with poor vision.  If you get a water dispenser that has flowing water, that usually ends the paw drinking activities.  Still, if it seems like your kitty enjoys her ritual, I wouldn't worry about it.

The main reason you would want to be concerned is if your kitty is getting to be less resistant to germs—then drinking off one's dirty paw probably isn't the best thing for her to be doing.  Imagine sticking your hands in a litter box, even one that is cleaned regularly, than using your hands to drink water.  Clearly, this isn't an ideal situation.

As I mentioned, some unusual behaviors are related to lingering wild instincts.  One of my cats actually paws at the floor while he drinks.  Occasionally, he’ll even paw at the water and splash it all over the place.  (He’s not the brightest bulb out of my three kitties!)  This behavior can be traced back to the activities of felines in the wild who buried their leftover food to keep it safe from other hungry animals. Drinking with one’s paw may be connected to this old instinct.

No matter what the cause, it's rather fun watching kitties with bizarre behaviors and trying to figure them out!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cuddling with Pets

Dear Marie, 
Help!  Help! 
My name is Eric.  I really enjoy your columns.  You advocate letting your dog on your lap to cuddle with you, but I have people who tell me that this is not right.  I will explain:

I used to have a dog, named Boomer.  She's no longer with me, but the one thing that I loved to do with her, was cuddle with her.  I would let her come up on my lap, and I would hug her, and she would give me a kiss.  After that, she wagged her tail to tell me, "I love you."  I miss that!

I have been getting wrong information, so, would you please explain to your readers, the mindset of a dog while they cuddle with their owner?  Is it wrong to cuddle? 

I've lost a few friends because of this, Marie.  I don't know how to get them to understand, that this is therapeutic.  I want a guide dog someday, and the next "pet" dog I want, should be a Labrador, or Golden retriever (good, cuddling dogs).  Please!  I'm needing answers, before I blow my top!

Eric C.

Dear Eric,
Please don’t blow your top!  I don’t know why your friends are giving you a hard time for cuddling with your dogs.  Obviously, they don’t know what they are missing out on.  You are absolutely correct in your statement that snuggling with a pet is therapeutic.  In fact, many convalescent hospitals, Alzheimer’s facilities, and children’s hospitals welcome visits from animals specifically because cuddle time leads to better health, both physical and emotional, on the part of the patients.  (And the pets really love it too!)

Occasionally, dogs with dominance related behavioral problems need to have limits set for what they can and cannot do.  For example, you would not want to let dogs prone to aggression and/or dominance sleep on your bed or participate in other activities that send the message of being equal, or even greater than you in the home chain of command.  But clearly, this is not the situation that you are discussing.

Quite simply, dogs crave affection from their people.  They love to sit in laps – even if they ten times too big.  All of the German Shepherds I have had over the years have tried their best to be lap dogs, to the point of scrunching up as much as possible to fit.  Sometimes watching TV was a little difficult, but that was OK.

Domesticated dogs are not as sophisticated as their wolf cousins and tend to be like little children for the duration of their lives.  Getting attention from you is like getting hugs from a loving parent, and there is nothing wrong with that. 

It sounds to me like you need to meet some new friends who share your love of animals.  I understand that you are looking for a guide dog and may have some disabilities that limit what you think you can do.  Nevertheless, I would suggest getting down to your local animal shelter and volunteering a few hours a week.  You will find many like-minded people there who donate their time (and love) to the homeless pets living at these facilities.  I suspect that you’ll make lots of good friends in this setting and that they will never tell you to stop snuggling with your pets.  You may also find that special Labrador or Golden Retriever who needs a home like yours.  It would be a perfect situation all the way around.

Dogs are companion animals.  This means they are our friends.  Sometimes, many folks forget this basic fact, leaving dogs in back yards or turning them into security devices.  This is no life for a sentient being that craves a social existence.  All one needs to do is look into the eyes of any dog to see the longing for contact and affection.  I believe that anyone who takes a moment to do this will never deny their pets the love and attention that every dog wants and needs. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

To Clip or Not to Clip

Dear Marie,
I was watching the news recently when I saw a story about a lost parrot and its heart-broken owner.  As the mom of two feathered children, I could totally relate to her grief.  For people who don’t have any birds, I don’t know if they can fully appreciate how much they become part of the family.  They often live as long (or longer) than their people; they are very intelligent, they are playful and intelligent.  In many ways, my parrots are more like part of my family than my dogs and cats. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dogs and cats too, it’s just that parrots seem more substantial in their personalities.  If I were to lose one, I would be wrecked.  So this brings me to my question.  My birds never go outside so I have not clipped their wings.  They can fly inside my home.  Everyone who comes to visit me knows that they have to be very careful when coming and going and my birds never seem interested in leaving.  But now, after seeing the story of the bird that flew away, I am starting to worry.  If my birds have always seemed content in the house and never showed signs of wanting to escape, am I right in thinking I don’t need to clip their wings?

Dear Jenna.
There is much debate on this topic.  Personally, I have always clipped my cockatoo’s wings—just some of the interior flight feathers; I leave enough outer feathers to allow him to jump down from high places safely.  He’s a little like Buzz Lightyear, falling with style!

Like your birds, my little guy is very bonded to my family and he has less than zero interest in making his way in the big, bad world.  He absolutely HATES leaving the house.  I do take him out from time to time, but he generally can’t wait to get back home.

But parrots are prey animals and are easily frightened.  If there is ever a situation—an emergency, for example—where strangers must enter your home, they might not realize you have birds.  Doors could be left open, unusual activities may occur, and in a blink of an eye, your frightened birds could flee the scene.

It does not take long for a bird to fly far from home and in the air, all rooftops look the same.  Lost birds become frantic and tired.  They fly until they are completely drained of energy and usually land in very unsafe locations.  In this weakened state, they can be picked off by predators or cars.  If people find them, they are rarely turned in to shelters.  Still worse, they may succumb to the elements and/or starvation.

Even though their chances for making it back home are slim if they escape, I do strongly encourage you to get each of your birds microchipped.  If they do get loose and if they are picked up by animal control or taken to a veterinarian, they can be scanned and returned to you.

In reality, it doesn’t take an emergency situation involving strangers to lose a pet bird.  I know you feel that everyone at your house knows the rules about opening and closing doors safely.  But there only needs to be one lapse in following those rules that leads to the tragic loss of your parrots.  

Since your birds have always had full flight, you should probably talk about this subject with your avian veterinarian.  He or she can explain and demonstrate how to trim flight feathers, and how many to trim.  If you decide to proceed with clipping, it might be a good idea to ease your birds into a new flightless lifestyle.  Clip just a few feathers in the beginning so that flying is just slightly inhibited.  After your birds adjust, clip a couple more feathers.  Never trim so many that your bird cannot glide to the floor from a tall perch.

The last thing I want to leave you with is that birds like being in high places.  Be sure to set up various items that can be used for climbing.  Birds are excellent climbers and enjoy ropes, ladders, and other items that are strategically placed around your home that will allow them to get to their favorite elevated perches.  

Clipping a bird’s wings is a difficult decision.  These animals were intended to fly.  But being pets, they depend on people for safety and security.  They are tame, captive bred animals, that have never learned survival skills like their wild counterparts.  Most that escape die within days of disappearing.   For these reasons, I will always recommend clipping flight feathers.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cat Fights Breaking Out in the Family

Dear Marie,
I have three female indoor cats. The oldest is Sydney (5 1/2 years old), Priscilla (4 years old) and Mystique (3 1/2 years old). I have had them for as long as they are old within a few months period and they were all strays at one time. They all have been fixed, have their shots and have gotten clean bills of health. Sydney is the attention hog and Mystique is a runt and very shy. Over the last few months Sydney has become very aggressive towards Mystique, picking fights; but Mystique doesn't fight, she just tries to get away. I have tried squirting water, which she didn't like at first, but now she waits to be squirted. Next I started putting her in the garage, but then she will do her bullying and then run to the garage door to be let out. I don't know how to break the pattern or why she has become aggressive. There haven't been any new situations or changes in the living pattern at my house. Any suggestions of why this is happening and how to stop it would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your time.

Dear Corrie,
Without coming to your house and spending a few days, I won’t be able to tell you what has caused this shift in behavior. There are many different environmental stimuli that can trigger this type of squabbling in pets that have previously been buddies. For example, if  there have been stray cats fighting outside of your home, Sydney – who seems to be the dominant cat of the family – may be feeling overly defensive and as a result, poor Mystique is suffering. Or, perhaps Sydney, who in your own words is the attention hog, may have realized that Mystique is no longer a kitten and can potentially take away some of his lap time. Have you possibly been giving Mystique more attention than you have been in the past? How does Priscilla fit into this equation? Is Sydney possessive of her?

Has Mystique been spending more time with Priscilla? Again, there can be any number of reasons for this civil unrest.So let’s get to the solution instead. If the fighting is intense, you’ll want to put an end to it immediately. The longer it goes on, the less chance you will have of successfully resolving the matter. There will be fighting bouts for the duration of Sydney’s life. I would strongly advise putting the two cats at issue into separate rooms for two solid weeks. They should have their own food and water dishes, and their own litter boxes.

Two weeks is about as long as it takes for a habit to be broken and I would definitely categorize this new behavior as a developing bad habit. This time period should not be an unpleasant incarceration. On the contrary – what it will do is establish peacefulness and security in each animal, they will feel no need for confrontation. This long-term tranquility will ultimately remain with each pet once they are again allowed to roam freely together in the house.

It is important that you spend plenty of time with each cat and allow him or her individually to come out of its room (daily) while the other remains behind a closed door. Be sure and give plenty of affection to both kitties. In addition to separation, you should block out plenty of playtime for each cat. A cat that gets adequate daily exercise has little energy left for territorial fighting in the house.

When the big day comes for reintroduction, you’ll want to take it slowly. Let Mystique out first and give her lots of time to get into a comfortable position somewhere in the house. Once she is settled, you can open Sydney’s door. Be sure to put away Priscilla’s food so that no one fights over that.

At the first sign of hostility, position yourself between the two cats and firmly tell the offending kitty, “NO!” Do not let him get by and do not back down if he continues demonstrating any signs of aggressive behavior. Have a pillow in your hand in case you need to act quickly to stop a fight. However, if Sydney demonstrates a peaceful nature, be sure to give him lots of praise.

If necessary, you can reintroduce Sydney in the same manner I have outlined in previous columns for bringing a new cat into a home where there are existing household cats. However, I don’t think you will need to follow those steps in this case.

One last bit of advice – NEVER break up two fighting cats with your hands, arms, feet, or legs - if
necessary use the pillow I mentioned. Too many cat owners assume their pets will never bite or scratch them – but in a fight situation, there are no guarantees. Cat bites and scratches can be very serious so always use common sense when trying to stop a cat-fight.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dog Deodorant?

Dear Marie,
Our family has a two-year-old Boxer. The dog is an indoor/outdoor (80/20) pet, who spends most of the time indoors. We currently bathe the dog every 3-4 weeks. Our vet recommended that we not bathe her more then every 21 days. This schedule works out well because the flea medications that we use routinely need to be reapplied at about this same interval. My question is this, is it OK to deodorize the dog between baths with something like baby power, once a week? Being that the dog is indoors so much we want
to keep her smelling fresh. The spray products that I have found at the pet stores seem to be very expensive and only come in small cans. If Baby Power is not safe is there something else that is reasonably priced that is safe and acceptable for dogs?

Dear Kevin,
I have always used baby powder on my pets between baths. However, you should know that the use of baby powder might cause respiratory problems for some dogs, and occasionally skin irritations. Every dog is different so try it out in small amounts and watch your dog for any signs of a problem. If you do notice anything abnormal, I would discontinue use. Sometimes if there are difficulties with scented baby powder, just switching to plain old cornstarch corrects any negative issues. Again, play it by ear and see how your dog does.

I have heard of a variety of homemade dog deodorants that readers have written to me about. One that I have not tried, though sounds interesting, is a spray that is made out of one part original Listerine, diluted with 8 parts water. A number of Basset Hound owners I know have tried this and have been extremely happy with the results. And if you know Basset Hounds (and their smell) that is quite an endorsement.

If your dog has especially oily skin, you can probably get away with more frequent bathing. However, if your dog seems to be unusually foul smelling, there may something going on that needs to be addressed that has nothing to do with grooming. For example – do you brush your dog’s teeth regularly?

A dog whose dental care is largely ignored until it becomes a health problem can be a very stinky dog indeed. It is not too late to get you pet accustomed to having her teeth cleaned once a day. Visit your local pet supply store and take a look at the various products available. There are meat flavored tooth pastes, a variety of scrubbing utensils, and everything else you may need to keep your pet’s teeth and gums in tip top shape.

Unfortunately, certain dog treats and dog foods are often the culprits behind dog stench. Take some time to experiment by eliminating one item at a time from your dog’s daily diet. For example, if you treat her with biscuits, or pig’s ears, or rawhide, etc., stop these treats for a while and see if there is improvement. You may also try switching to a higher-end food, as some of the less expensive foods are made with ingredients that are difficult for dogs to digest, and that leads to unpleasant smells.

Some dog owners have had success eliminating pet body odors by adding chlorophyll to their pets’ diets. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of that, but it might be worth the effort.A number of veterinary conditions give rise to unpleasant odors such as thyroid conditions, allergies, ear infections, parasites, etc. If your dog develops a strong odor soon after bathing, it is advisable to look into these possibilities.

Finally, some dogs prefer to have an offensive odor; for them, it is quite nice. I had a dog who immediately after baths would find - at her first opportunity - fecal matter or something dead or rotting to roll around in. Nothing made her happier than smelling like the county trash dump. Of course, that didn't go over well with all of us – so back into the bath she’d have to go, much to her dismay.

The bottom line is every dog is unique in that way. Find what works best for your dog and your family, and your noses will all be happy.

Best of luck.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Young German Shepherd is Chewing EVERYTHING!

Dear Marie:
I just adopted a nine month old German Shepherd that was given up by its owner because it chewed everything and anything. She is extremely sweet. It’ just that when she is left alone, she chews whatever catches her attention. Apparently she chewed some young trees to stumps and destroyed almost every pair of shoes in her former house. She even chewed walls. Now, I realize I’m going to have my hands full with
this dog and I've already made some big changes to my home environment. My main concern is not for my stuff; but for her safety. Can you run down a list of items that I should consider and may have overlooked while I complete my “chew-proofing?”

Dear Gracie,
It’s so good to hear from someone like you who is willing to work with a “high maintenance dog.” So often, dogs with behavioral problems are just deemed “bad” and are destroyed. Often, these negative behaviors are normal canine activities and dogs just need to be redirected so that their actions do not cause damage to property, or themselves.

I’m sure you have already provided your new pooch with some chew toys. Be sure and lavish her with praise each and every time she uses her toys instead of a chair leg!  To make her even more interested in toys rather than inappropriate items, get a special "Kong Toy" that you can fill with peanut butter and treats. This type of "interactive play thing" keeps dogs busy and engaged for hours!

In the average home, there are many safety hazards, especially for pets that chew random items. Electrical wires are extremely appealing targets. To prevent your dog from electrocution, keep all wiring out of canine reach. For example, cords can run behind sofas or bookshelves, under carpet or above your dog’s maximum height (on two legs). If certain rooms cannot be wired safely and your dog will be left alone for any length of time, close off access.

Dogs will also try to find things to chew in your trash if it is accessible.  (Most dogs have no trouble pulling open kitchen cabinets...use baby-locks on any doors that lead to food or trash storage!) Bones, especially chicken bones, can be deadly. Other small objects can also become lodged in your dog’s esophagus and may cause considerable damage.

If you have children, make sure they pick up their toys and put them behind CLOSED closet doors and in boxes. The small parts of toys can break off by the force of your dog’s jaws, and if ingested, can cause as much, if not more harm than bones and trash.

Put all of your household medications in a secure medicine cabinet. Dogs can chew through plastic bottles and swallow the contents. If you ever suspect that your dog has ingested human medications, contact your veterinarian or pet poison control.

Keep all cleaning, gardening, miscellaneous household, and automotive chemicals out of reach of your canine companion. Most antifreeze products are extremely toxic. Unfortunately, many pets will eagerly drink the fluid if they have access to it because it has an enticing smell and taste. The plastic jugs in which antifreeze is packaged are no match for capable teeth. I always suggest purchasing antifreeze that is labeled, “non-toxic to animals.”

Acids and other caustic products must be stored in dog proof areas/containers. If your dog does manage to chew up a Drano container or pool product, DO NOT MAKE YOUR PET THROW UP. Instead, give her some milk so that the chemical can interact with the milk protein rather than your pet’s stomach. Then, immediately take her to your veterinarian.

Finally, realize that many common houseplants are toxic. Hang your plants from your ceiling, or set them on shelves that are too high for your dog to reach. By preventing access to poisonous plants and hazards in general, you should be able to keep your dog safe and happy.

Best wishes to you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Giving a Cat a Pill...

Dear Readers:
Every now and then, I get very funny messages faxed, e-mailed, Facebook messaged, or mailed to me. I’d like to share this one with you because anyone who has owned a cat can relate to this humor! It's an oldie but a goodie and even though I've read it before, it still makes me laugh.  This was sent in by Kandi who reads my column via the Internet. The title of this little gem is called, “Giving your Cat a Pill- A Step by Step Guide” (Of course, this is just meant as entertainment! Do not use these pill-giving methods for your cats!!!)

1) Pick cat up and cradle it in the crook of your left arm as if holding a baby. Position right forefinger and thumb on either side of cat's mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in right hand. As cat opens mouth pop pill into mouth. Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.

2) Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa. Cradle cat in left arm and repeat process.

3) Retrieve cat from bedroom, and throw soggy pill away.

4) Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm holding rear paws tightly with left hand. Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of ten.

5) Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe. Call spouse from garden.

6) Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, hold front and rear paws. Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get spouse to hold head firmly with one hand while placing wooden tongue depressor into mouth. Drop in pill and rub cat's throat vigorously.

7) Retrieve cat from curtain rail, get another pill from foil wrap. Make note to repair curtains. Carefully sweep shattered ceramic figures from hearth and set to one side for gluing later.

8) Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, open mouth with pencil and blow pill down drinking straw.

9) Check label to make sure pill is not harmful to humans, drink a glass of water to take taste away. Apply Band-Aid to spouse's forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap.

10) Retrieve cat from neighbor's shed. Get another pill. Place cat in cupboard and gently use door to wedge cat's neck, leaving head showing. Open mouth with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.

11) Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Apply cold compress to
cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot.

12) Ring fire department to retrieve cat from tree across the road. Apologize to neighbor who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid cat. Take last pill from foil-wrap.

13) Tie cat's front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining table, find heavy duty pruning gloves from shed, force cat's mouth open with small wedge. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of fillet steak. Hold head vertically and pour 1/2 pint of water down throat to wash pill down.

14) Get spouse to drive you to the emergency room, sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call furniture shop on way home to order new table.

15) Kick yourself for not adopting a hamster!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Cat and Dog Family

Dear Marie,
I have a four-year-old cat that is like my baby.  The people who lived in my apartment before me abandoned it and I told the landlord I would keep the cat.  He was only three or four months old at the time.  I named him Henry and now he is a very pampered kitty.  About two months ago, I started dating a guy who has a pit bull.  He says the dog is very good with other animals and that I shouldn't worry about the bad reputation that pit bulls have.  The dog is great with me and I’m totally comfortable with the dog.  But my boyfriend thinks we should introduce the dog and the cat so that he doesn't need to leave him alone at his place when he comes over.  I’m not so sure this is a good idea.  Any advice?
San Clemente

Dear Kim,
It is true that Pit Bulls have quite a bad reputation, and although they are capable of causing extraordinary damage with their powerful jaws and well-developed muscles, they are in most cases, happy, friendly, loyal dogs, that if socialized properly, are no more dangerous than the average Golden Retriever.

Unfortunately, Pit Bulls have been the breed of choice for certain individuals who are not necessarily looking for a gentle family companion – but rather a tough-dog-accessory for their own, misdirected egos.  These people encourage bad behavior in their pets and do not take the crucial steps in early puppy hood training that will bring about a well-mannered and safe adult dog.  It is not hard to dig up recent stories in the press that describe gruesome maulings that are attributed to this breed. 

This has led to cities, homeowners associations, and landlords enacting harsh laws or rules that are directed at pit bulls.  In my opinion, these discriminatory actions are wrong because any large dog that has not been properly socialized can inflict serious and life threatening injuries; but that’s another story.

I’ll have to deduce that since you took in an abandoned kitten and you read my column, that you are an animal lover and would probably only date another animal lover.  Based on the evidence that your boyfriend’s dog is well behaved, then it seems fairly apparent that he does not fall into the category of Pit Bull owners that I have described above. Nevertheless, a dog that is good with people isn't sure to be good with other animals.

Therefore, the first thing you should do is find out if the dog has visited off-leash dog parks in the past.  If it has, ask if you could go to one with your boyfriend and his dog so that you can observe its behavior.  Pay close attention to how it interacts with small dogs.  If it shows any trace of predatory behavior when a little dog runs by, this could be a warning sign that he will be difficult to safely introduce to your cat.  

On the other hand, if he seems just as playful and friendly with a little cockapoo as he is with the other big dogs, that’s a good indication that he can be carefully introduced to other small animals.  Still, follow-up your dog park test with a walk through the neighborhood. 

In most communities, there are many outdoor cats.  As you walk with your boyfriend’s dog, watch for any sudden reactions it has to cats that dart across lawns or streets.  If he seems overly anxious to chase, this may be a sign that you will not be able to safely integrate him with your own cat.  Nevertheless, this last test isn't foolproof because many dogs that live quite successfully with indoor cats will still click into predator mode when they are outdoors.

My final piece of advice is this.  You have only been dating your boyfriend for two months.  Your cat, Henry, has been your loyal companion for almost four years and in your own words, he is like your baby.  Bringing your boyfriend’s dog to your place will be very upsetting for Henry even if the dog is perfectly well-behaved.  Teaching dogs and cats to live together harmoniously takes quite a bit of effort, time (sometimes months to years), and patience and cannot—and should not—be done in staggered doses (occasional visits), as that is ineffective and only serves to freak out the cats.  It is definitely not something that can be done without your full attention—such as when you are in a date-like situation.  Until you are certain that your relationship is one that may become more permanent, I wouldn't recommend putting your cat through the stress.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Where do birds go when they die?

Dear Marie,
There is a bird question I have wondered about for years; we see tons of birds flying around, sitting on phone poles, in our birdhouse, and in trees as they sing at night.  My question is: It is rare when you see a dead bird lying somewhere. Where do they go when it is "bird heaven" time? This is a mystery to me.


Dear Monte,
You are not alone in wondering where birds go when their time is up.  With as many birds as there are, one would think that dead birds could be seen almost everywhere all of the time.  Yet as you have observed, this is not the case.

When my daughter was seven years old she actually had this same question but figured out an answer that worked for her: since they have wings, they simply fly up to heaven!

OK – that’s not the real answer.  But it was a lot nicer than the one I am going to give.

As birds become older and slower, or if they develop a serious illness or are injured, they become easy targets for the many predators that live in the same environment.  It does not take an opportunistic and hungry wild animal very long to spot a compromised bird.  Even well fed house cats cannot resist the temptation of taking an earth-bound avian.  Since all of the body parts of a bird are fairly easy to consume and digest, not much is left behind.  One may find a cluster of feathers here and there, but the wind quickly scatters this evidence and the death of a bird is usually not noticed.

Generally, animals sense when they are not doing well, and seek out well-concealed, off-the-beaten-path locations to hide and convalesce.  Many outdoor cat owners can tell you stories about how their old feline friends found places in bushes in which to hide and ultimately die.  In actuality, they were not throwing in the towel on life; rather, they were trying to find a safe place to weather what they had hoped would be a temporary disability without being eaten or attacked by something bigger.

This is an instinct that is very strong in most creatures and that is why in open areas we do not readily observe great numbers of dead animals of any species.  (Excepting opossums that routinely get egged on to cross the road by prankster chickens!)  Your question could have just as easily been, “Where do dead lizards go, or where do dead rats go?”   They all go somewhere safe and hidden. Since humans are the ultimate predators, ailing and dying animals definitely go somewhere that people will not be likely to find.

When sick or injured birds do not survive, their bodies remain hidden. Attracted by the smell of decay, scavengers of all kinds quickly begin cleaning up.  Insects, microscopic organisms, and carrion-eaters make short order of the very digestible avian remains.  The earth itself will use elements of the decomposing carcasses to replenish nutrients in the soil, which will in turn enhance plant growth in the immediate area.  The cycle of life continues in this way; nature wastes nothing.

So in a way, you are seeing dead birds everywhere; in each new sprout that reaches for the sunlight from a quiet corner of your yard; in the busy wanderings of small scavenger mammals who roam all of our neighborhoods; and even in the eager chirps of new baby birds who are being fed flying insects - the larval forms of which had dined on hidden carcasses.

My daughter’s answer may not have been completely wrong.  Though birds are not flying off to the hereafter, they contribute enormously to giving all of us here on earth an endless cycle of beauty through nature’s process, which clearly is a small piece of heaven after all.     

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Earthquakes and Pets!

Dear Readers,
After the recent significant earthquakes in Orange County, CA, I have received quite a few emails asking me to revisit disaster preparedness for pet owners. Since April is “Earthquake Preparedness Month,” I am all for reminding everyone about the basics again.

First and foremost, make sure you have emergency supplies for yourself! Think airline safety and how the flight attendants always tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you put a mask on your child. If you are unable to take care of yourself, you won’t really be in a position to take care of your pets. So come on people, if you haven’t already done so, get your emergency supplies together.  Our March earthquakes here in the OC should make that abundantly clear.

Now lets talk animals! For household pets: dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, rabbits, etc., make sure you have travel cages and kennels. These should be strong but easy to store and carry. Collapsible, portable enclosures are really the way to go——if you can keep them in your car’s trunk, all the better. Otherwise, keep them as close to your front door as possible. You don’t want to have to worry about finding anything and packing in the event of immediate evacuations.

Put together a duffle bag of pet supplies. This should include food and medications (that are continually cycled——used and replaced——so that they are fresh), extra leashes and collars with I.D. tags, blankets, towels, cat litter, disposable litter boxes, plastic bags (to dispose of pet waster), non-spillable bowls, bottled water, veterinary records and proof of vaccinations, phone numbers of veterinarians, and photographs of each pet——preferably photos of you and your pets in case you get separated or have to leave your pet and later need to prove ownership.

Have your pets microchipped. If they are already, ask your veterinarian to scan your pet at every routine examination to ensure the chip is still readable and has not migrated from the original injection area. Microchips are a pet’s best hope for getting back to its owners. If you've moved and/or changed phone numbers since your pet received his microchip, make sure you contact the company or veterinary hospital that maintains the database record so that everything can be updated.

Get your pets used to traveling in a car. Most dogs love to go for rides, but cats aren't particularly keen on the idea. It is probably best to put cats into cardboard cat carriers so that they can’t see what’s going on. They will still complain, but they will be much safer and calmer in a somewhat dark, small, enclosed space.

If you have horses, llamas, alpacas, or other large animals, practice trailering them on a regular basis. Livestock that never travel in trailers are very difficult to evacuate. Help them learn that getting into and out vehicles is A-OK. Go for short drives with them. Map out where there are stables you can go to that are out of the area. Keep those stable phone numbers available so you can call them in the event of a disaster and make sure they are capable of taking in evacuated large animals.

Since disasters are generally not predictable, there is a good chance your pets will be alone at your home when something serious happens. It is always a good idea to network with trusted neighbors, family, and friends who live close by so that they can get your pets and keep them until you can all meet up. Make sure these people are comfortable with your animals and that your animals are comfortable with them. They should also be familiar with where you keep your supplies so they can grab everything your pets will need before they evacuate.

Sometimes local phone calling capability is impacted during a disaster. It is important that you and your designated animal handling people have the phone number of someone who lives out of state who you predetermine to serve as a central contact. That way, you can communicate your whereabouts and status to this point-person who can relay your messages to the other parties.

Remember, try to stay calm during an emergency. Animals do pick up on high intensity emotions. If you want to keep them calm and orderly, you must remain grounded as well.

Natural disasters will always be a potential threat. However, by preparing to the best of your ability, you can keep your family (including your pets) safe and out of harm’s way.